Towards Spa F1 Grand Prix: Who’s got the right tyres to be competitive this weekend?
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Aug 2017   |  10:44 am GMT  |  73 comments

This weekend F1 returns from its summer break to race at Spa-Francorchamps and one of the hot topics is sure to be whether teams and drivers have made the right choice of tyres for the weekend or whether some might get caught out.

Pirelli has manufactured conservative tyres this season, covering their bases on the new higher downforce cars. It’s meant that the three tyre choices at most Grands Prix have been irrelevant and drivers have focussed on just the two softest available. This has also had a knock-on effect on Race Strategy, with fewer variables.

To their credit, Pirelli saw this and a few months ago decided to make some changes to the selections in the second half of the championship, starting with Spa. So the ultrasoft, supersoft and soft are the tyres on show.

When you consider that a few years ago they were bringing the hard and medium to Spa, it shows how things have evolved in the naming of the range.

But after the race in Silverstone, where Ferrari and a few other teams ran into problems at the end of stints with blistering on tyres, teams went back to their request sheets for Spa to review whether they have the right mixture of tyres for the Spa weekend.

Some haven’t.

One of the surprises at Silverstone was that the soft tyres were not as fast on race day as expected. The front tyres became the limitation, rather than the rears. Blistering appeared, which didn’t affect the lap time performance but was worrying for the teams, as it often goes down to the canvas. Spa has many similar characteristics to Silverstone, with high loadings and fast corner combinations.

So teams and drivers that have not been conservative, but rather have gone heavy on the ultrasofts and supersofts for Spa, will be going into the weekend’s practice running and race somewhat nervously; have they kept their options open with enough soft tyres?

This is the chart Pirelli has issued with the choices for each team at Spa (click to enlarge)

Ferrari had a tyre problem on Vettel’s car at Spa when trying to run a long stint in 2015 and so have been quite prudent, with three sets of softs for both drivers, the same as Bottas and the Force Indias, although Bottas has an extra set of supersofts compared to Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton has gone conservative with four sets of softs, showing Mercedes hedging their bets across the two cars, which is probably wise given how things panned out at Silverstone and how they have historically panned out at Spa.

Last year at Spa, Mercedes went into the race with a soft-medium-medium strategy planned for the winner Nico Rosberg, which roughly equates to two sets of softs for stints 2 and 3 this year, but the top teams may try to qualify on the supersoft in Q2 for better range in the opening stint if the ultra looks to be too short-lived.

A safety car and then a red flag stoppage neutralised the strategies last year.

The standout from the chart above is Red Bull and Williams, which have been very aggressive and gone for only one set of soft tyres for the whole weekend, while Red Bull has only three sets of supersofts, compared to Williams five.

This is a decision they may come to regret if the two softer tyre compounds start to blister.

Now Daniel Ricciardo has shown on many occasions that he is a master at extending a stint and keeping the tyres alive. He got an excellent podium at Silverstone after a difficult qualifying session, by doing 32 laps on a set of supersoft tyres in the opening stint, which gave him a 10 lap tyre offset to many of the cars against whom he was racing and he was able to pass.

But he’s going to need all his superpowers at Spa with little margin for error if it turns out that having two sets of softs on race day is the way to go. And Max Verstappen, his team mate, who is harder on tyres than Ricciardo, will certainly have to be very smart about how he works his way through his nine sets of ultrasofts and three sets of supersofts.

As a benchmark, Mercedes don’t usually get it too far wrong on tyre selection, so to have such a huge variation in decision making between them and Red Bull is really unusual and gives a real added interest for the weekend.

The time needed for a stop at Spa is average at around 21 seconds. Although it’s a long pit lane, with a slow exit, the cars staying on the track must navigate a slow hairpin so the lost time from pitting isn’t as great as it might be.

Spa is a circuit that should suit the Mercedes long wheel base car, as Silverstone did, with plenty of long fast and medium speed corners, so Ferrari will be the hunters this weekend.

It is also a very tough circuit on engines; it is the highest engine power factor circuit on the F1 calendar. The track is 70% full throttle and the run from La Source hairpin to the braking point for Les Combes features 23.5 seconds of constant full throttle. It is normal to fit a new power unit for this weekend if possible in the duty cycle, as Monza next up is another extremely tough circuit for the engines.

The Belgian Grand Prix in Numbers

The 73rd Belgian GP will be the 50th to be held at Spa-Francorchamps, joining Monza, Monaco and Silverstone in the 50’s club.

Spa is also the longest circuit on the calendar at 7.004 kilometres, 1.001km more than Baku, but last year the top three in Q3 were separated by just 0.166 seconds, and the top 20 in Q1 by 1.333s showing that a 7km lap can be close.

Nobody has ever won the race from fourth in the 49 Belgian GPs run. Furthermore, since 2000, only Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso have stood on the podium from fourth place, in 2000 and 2005, respectively.

Alonso gave Ferrari their last podium finish in the Belgian GP, finishing second in 2013. In the hybrid era, Williams and Lotus have had as many podiums at Spa as Ferrari.

As mentioned above, Ferrari will be the hunters at this GP and Vettel will be aware that there have been no back-to-back race-winners so far this season.

Mercedes will be equally aware that Hamilton can equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 career pole-positions and a Mercedes front-row lockout will be their 50th in F1 with 150 front row starts under its belt.  The outfit seeks a fifth consecutive pole here in Belgium.

Of course, Vettel has had more wins this season, with four, than his last three wins in the previous three years combined, showing Ferrari’s evident change of momentum.

Raikkonen starts in the top four, it will be the 100th top four start of his career. The Finn has four Belgian GP wins, twice as many as at any other track in his career and he trails – equal with Jim Clark – only Ayrton Senna (five) and Schumacher (six) in Spa wins.

29.08.2004 Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium,<br /> F1, Sunday, August, Mark Webber, AUS, Jaguar crash in the back of Rubens Barrichello, BRA, Ferrari, Felipe Massa, BRA, Sauber, Kimi Raikkonen, FIN, Räikkönen, McLaren Mercedes, Michael Schumacher, GER, Ferrari, David Coulthard, GBR, McLaren Mercedes - the start of the race - Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Belgium Grand Prix, BEL, Belgium -, EMail: - copy of publication required for printed pictures. Every used picture is fee-liable. © Copyright:

Hamilton, on the other hand, has retired here four times: more than at any other circuit in his F1 career. This will be his 200th GP start and he’s looking for his fifth win of the season.

Mercedes counterpart Bottas has scored more points (106) in the last six GPs than any other driver and has finished on the podium for the last five races. That’s the best streak of his career. With another this weekend he will reach nine podiums this year, matching the total from the rest of his combined career.

Red Bull will be looking for something here in their 200th start with a Renault engine, and Ricciardo will be looking to add to his 2014 Belgian GP win. Verstappen’s five retirements in 2017 are only matched by McLaren’s Alonso (not including the Russian GP when he didn’t start).

Verstappen has managed to out-qualify Ricciardo six times in the last seven GPs.

Alonso himself suffered a 50-place grid penalty here in 2015, and a 65-place penalty in 2016 but he finished sixth in Hungary and set the fastest lap for the second time since rejoining McLaren, in the 200th GP since he was crowned world champion.

McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne could be the first Belgian to score in his home GP since Thierry Boutsen in 1989.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat will be looking to finish on the lead lap for the first time this season while Haas’ Kevin Magnussen will be looking to reach Q3 for the first time this season – as will the Sauber pair.

However, Marcus Ericsson managed to set the 10th fastest (raced) lap times in Bahrain, Spain, Britain and Hungary.

Finally,  Felipe Massa’s absence at Hungary made it the first race without a Brazilian driver since the San Marino GP in 1982 (affected by a boycott); his illness in Hungary made that the first race without any former team-mate of Michael Schumacher present since the US GP at Watkins Glen in 1978.

Have your say on JA on F1’s Belgian Grand Prix preview in the comment section below, or on our Facebook Page.



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I’m going to miss watching Spa on the telly next year.


It was just a matter of weeks back when Renault stated that there would be no further upgrades to their PU and as of yesterday they are now saying that they will in fact be bringing upgrades!!! Adding to this is the farcical grid penalties being applied. I mean, seriously, Vandoorne is getting a 35 place grid penalty. Just how stupid are the FIA. Here they call themselves the pinnacle of motorsport and then they go and introduce something so silly. It truly beggars belief. As for the tyres, well if the forecasts have got it right then it’s going to be a very wet race and that alone will throw all the strategies out the window. Red Bull are going out on a limb with their choices but maybe they will pull something off with this aggressive choice of tyres. But again, the weather may throw all that away as well. Interesting times ahead this week end.


Isn’t the difference in allocation between team mates more to do with splitting the plans in free practice than differing race strategy?


James, as ever you analysis is spot on, and watching the tyre battle will be intriguing…..unless of course it rains. But it never rains at Spa… 🙂


McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne could be the first Belgian to score in his home GP since Thierry Boutsen in 1989.

No, He Can’t


his illness in Hungary made that the first race without any former team-mate of Michael Schumacher present since the US GP at Watkins Glen in 1978.

Now that’s a stat James. You should be given a knighthood for that one.

#Sir James Allen


Wow, 4 sets of Softs for some and 1 set for others, that’s a huge difference in thinking. With only 6 sets of UltraSofts, the Mercedes tactics will be interesting, surely they’ll keep 2 sets for Q3, so that only leaves 4 sets for the 3 practise sessions. That’s not a lot of car and driver set up time, since they will only last 1 or at stretch maybe 2 flying laps. They must be extremely confident that the car is not going to suit the UltraSofts. Then Hamilton has gone for only 3 sets of SuperSofts, so they are almost as confident that they won’t suit them either. All of his eggs are in the Soft basket.

This is a somewhat different risk profile to some teams taking up low numbers of Softs (5 cars with 1 set only) as they haven’t proven to be of much use at previous races. Looking forward to seeing how the tactics play out in qualifying and then in the race.


Unless they use a different tire for Q2, they’ll need a new US set for Q2 too. Then ideally you’d want two new sets for Q3. So I would expect them to use one US set for FP2 work (quali sim and then first long run), and one in FP3. Obviously Lewis will be doing his other FP2 long run on softs while Bottas will be doing it on the supersofts.

I don’t get why RBR or Williams wouldn’t have given at least one of their drivers an extra set of softs, to test out in FP2. Can they do a race distance going US-SS-S? Or would they need to go US-US-SS-SS?

Of the 10 tire sets that are variable, 1 can only be used in the first 40 mins of FP1. That set, plus another, must be returned after FP1. Two more sets must be returned after FP2 (unless both FP1 & FP2 were wet, then 1 of the 2 sets can be retained for use in FP3). Another two sets must be returned after FP3. So teams will have only 7 available tires for qualifying and the race. Those that make Q3 will only have 6 tires available, as they have to return the nominated Q3-only tire.


Kimi FTW! If there is one track that he excels then this is it. He’ll out qualify Vettel for sure but the Mercs are going to be too strong, maybe a bit of rain might catch them out. Lets go racing


“Hamilton has gone conservative with four sets of softs” – conservative? I don’t know. Merc and HAM in particular are just still not happy on ultras this season.

“Red Bull and Williams have been very aggressive and gone for only one set of soft tyres. This is a decision they may come to regret if the two softer tyre compounds start to blister.” – Don’t believe this to be that risky a choice. Some blistering may be expected but SS and US have proven quite dependable all season. I still believe some of the ‘amazing’ long stints on US shown by e.g. Vettel and Ricciardo were easily possible and to be expected in fact.


Interesting to see will Ferrari cars eat their tyres alive like they did in Silverstone.


That is a lot of analysis on dry tyres, ahead of the weekend at Spa of all places. If any event is expected to see more running on the blue and green labelled tyres, this is the one.


Last year was warm and the story was all about how they behaved.


Right now it’s much colder than it was last year, so expect even the softer tyres will last long this Sunday.


Good to see F1 back anywhere but the race being in Spa is an added bonus. The odds are in Mercedes’ favor, but I keep some hope that Ferrari might squeeze a win here. It would be even sweeter if that win came from Kimi, seeing that he has a more than descent record here.
With a chance of rain at 49% around race start time, we might get a wild race too. What more to get back into an already above average season. Hamilton on his 200th start matching Schumacher’s pole record, Red Bull joining the top two teams for a real fight at the front, Alonso throwing in a magic performance yet again, are a few other things to look up to this week end as well. Marc


Is Eau Rouge flat out in these cars?


Not for Alonso due to the power he has on tap now.


Eau Rouge has been flat out the last couple of years for most car/driver combos. Also the changes they made to the track for safety reasons have not helped, as more experienced drivers say it is now less challenging to drive fast here compared to previously. I will be at top of Eau Rouge for FP, so will be interesting to hear if some chickens will be lifting this year. ;o)


We’ll find out Saturday


Hopefully they’ll be no delamination in the Spa race. Mercedes should be 20 seconds ahead unless it’s raining. Or unless Sainz and Mr Torpedo have decided to have another tit for tat bish bash bosh. Same goes for Perez and Ocon.
Also hoping Mclaren can start with some more horse power.


@ BK Flamer…with such a short run to the first corner it is almost a given that there will be a bingle somewhere. Verstappen’s starts are becoming very ‘torpedo’ like and he will need to wind his neck in a little after the last race if he is going to challenge the leaders and pull off a podium. I should imagine that DR will be keeping an eye out…


I love odd little stats like the last paragraph. I remember when Rubens retired and it was the end of an era to see the last driver that had raced against Senna hang up his boots. Sadly that day will come for the drivers that raced against Schumacher before long.


Although things will be very interesting when it remains dry given indeed RBR/Williams’ aggressive choice we clearly need a bit of rain around Spa!


Right now it looks like rain on Sunday, that might actually end as the race goes on. We might be on for our first standing start in the wet.


If Kimi is going to win a race this year this will be it. He has always been mega around Spa. I recall him blasting blind through Eau Rouge back in 02 through someones engine smoke. He beat the all conquering Ferrari in a rubbish McLaren in 04, destroyed the field in 05 and took on the mighty Force India of Fisichella in 09 in an undrivable Ferrari!


Ferrari won’t let him win. It’s Vettel with all the new bouts on his car. It’s Vettel who will have all the strategic help on track. Kimi is just the help in the servants quarter….sadly. If he is ahead of Vettel they’ll swap him every time.
I hope Kimi just sticks two fingers and races for a win at least once. Or it’ll be a passive performance for another year from the flying fin.


He was so close to winning in ’08 as well from 4th on the grid. Of course we all know what happened when the rain arrived.


Ahh I was so gutted Kimi got caught out when in the lead!


That was a tricky one. I remember thinking at the time, and I think MB on the commentary shared the opinon, that although he let him back through he still had the advantage. The conditions played a part, had that been a dry track I doubt he would have got back past Massa into turn 1.


Watch the video in the link below. MB says that he thinks the way he gave the position back was fine.

Massa? Y’mean Kimi.

If Lewis was behind him going into La Source, he still would have beaten Kimi.


Wasn’t that the one were Lewis got disqualified or something along those lines?


Yes James, well Lewis got a time penalty for cutting the chicane which gifted Massa the win.


@ NickH
I’ve just recapped by watching the video on YouTube. Thought it was a bit harsh on Lewis. Those were the days when they could actually race!
Looking forward to GPPredictor😊 Gotta get one over Sars again😄


That video is still great. Gotta say though, watching Kimi going wide around the entire Pouhon corner and coming back on with more momentum … isn’t that cutting the track and gaining an advantage?

At the start of the 3rd last lap, Hamilton was ahead of Massa by 6 seconds, and he ended up 14 seconds ahead. He waxed both Kimi and Massa in that race, and then there was that shambolic penalty.


I remember what ever it was Lewis got, was way over the top.


He was kind of lucky it rained though as Kimi had it won otherwise.


I wouldn’t call it lucky. Unlucky would be Kimi’s engine blowing up in the last laps while leading (which he’s had a few times in his career). Rain is just an external variable that sometimes affects races. All need to be prepared and able to meet the different demands of those external variables. I agree that without it Kimi would’ve won easily, but then it wouldn’t have been the barnstormer of a race that it was.


Can still argue it was a tad fortunate as the McLaren 2008 kept heat in it’s tyres better than the Ferrari that season as well documented by Mark Hughes which gave Hamilton a clear advantage running on slick tyres in slippery conditions.


He was given a drive-through (25s) penalty for cutting the last chicane, even after Charlie Whiting had told the team (after being asked by McLaren) that Lewis had given the position back as he needed to. They then brought in the rule that after giving a position back, that you need to wait until after the next corner before attacking again. That was in place from Italy ’08 on. Strange then that they retroactively applied it in Belgium.

The FIA ruined that race, which should have a prized place in their video archives, but because of that penalty cannot.


It wasn’t really Lewis”s fault. He was basically given no space by kimi. Of course, that’s what hard racings all about. But still to harsh on Lewis. I think Lewis put a few noses out of place in 07/08. A bit like what Max done last year😊


That was a fantastic duel between Kimi and Lewis in the wet. They were both a class apart.


@H bomb
Couldn’t agree more👍


Unless they’re nearly as quick on the supersoft as ultrasoft, I think it would be hard for teams to give up grid position to start on them. It has to be a minimum of a two stop, and possibly a 3-stop. So US-S-S, or US-SS-S.

Nice stats in your post … interesting that Hamilton’s 4 retirements here have all been through contact (just one his fault though).

Will slipstreaming be easier this year on Kemmel, b/c of the 2017 cars’ greater drag? Would think so.

Just saw the news of Kimi’s contract renewal for 2018. To be expected, though I think it’s a wrong move from Ferrari.


We all bang on about Soft and Supersoft etc etc but come raceday drivers are doing half a race on ultra soft tyres that should last just a handful of laps.
Me thinks the tyres are all the same, just the colour of the paint on the sides is different.


I’m just sad that, coming back from three weeks break, the first thing we have to endure is an analysis on the ever-exciting topic of tyres. I had high hopes at the beginning of the season where it appeared that the big P had brought races that could be used for at least some degree of racing. But (‘to their credit’, according to the article’s author) now it looks like all we have to look forward to is the farcical pit-fest of recent years.


Probably catering to Sebs wishes. Trying to get Seb to sign a longer contract.
I’d love to see Lewis go to Ferrari in 2019. Vettel can go the other way. Wishful thinking maybe🤔


I wouldn’t be so sure that Ferrari is against only a 1 year deal for Seb. There are a lot of drivers on offer next year. Lewis to Ferrari for 2019 would be a great story. As always with these transitions, it’s how do you negotiate it without it affecting your current season? I will be surprised if Lewis does anything contract-wise, before the summer break.


Totally true. I’m thinking on the same lines.


Thanks for the tyre analysis, very interesting. I’m lucky enough to be going this year maybe I’ll see you in the paddock…

As for a lot of the other stat’s about frequency of non-finish, number of poles etc., they’re not, for me, very useful indicators of anything. For instance no back to back wins this year pretends to be more of a predictor than it really is. Yes there are more winners this year and the top 4/6 are more evenly matched, but back to back wins ARE more likely in the next 2 races surely?
As ever, thanks for the great articles.


What flag are you taking with you?


Phew…that was a long break! Time now to get down to the real business of sorting out the wheat from the chaff. I would be looking at a serious challenge from Ferrari. They need to get going on a roll and maybe now that Raikonnen has had his drive for ’18 confirmed he may just relax and drive right onto the podium. In fact i never really expected him not to get the drive. Ferrari will be able to pick and choose this time next year as there will be more promising talent coming onto the market to choose from. With luck DR may just get the chance to make the change as his position at Red Bull will become more and more difficult as Red Bull put even more emphasis on Verstappen. He will get 1st dibs as he has already said that he’s out of there if he isn’t competitive. Anybody spotted the special Red Bull ‘orange’ cap that the team has produced ? This race is one of the highlights of the season for me, Spa is Special. Maybe a little precipitation wouldn’t go amiss either……


Vettel and Verstappen crash out on the opening lap. Kimi wins, Hambone grabs 2nd. Alonso 3rd. Honda’s upgrade surprises Honda. Honda promptly ditches Mclaren for a better Red Bull.


Your right👍🏻 Spa is special. The place oozes history. Even though the current track is a shadow of its former self, next to Monza, it’s still the best track on the calendar. Oops, forgot silverstone aswell😊


@ james K…To add to that list of great circuits i would nominate COTA as being my second/third favorite insofar as they are very much a complete challenge with complex series of curves, great straights and many variations in elevation. So, in my list, Spa, COTA, Silverstone. Monza i can take it or leave it. Ultra high speeds don’t just do it for me but i’m certain that the atmosphere, if you are physically in attendance would be rather splendid.


Your right, COTA is a great track. But for me, it’s the history of a track aswell, all those old great F1 cars, the legendary drivers, legendary races… that’s what it is for me. Monza, Spa and Nurburgring….. just pure F1 sexiness😊


@ James K…yes, that too.


Don’t forget the great land of Canadia!


Your right, Canada is a great track aswell, no doubt!
But Monza, Spa and Silverstone, for me personally, really get the goose bumps going.


@ James K…Contrary to many fans i also love Monaco. It certainly has something special about it and at times it can throw up some serious racing especially when there is damp/wet track. Monaco is the ultimate test of driver concentration and skill in being mm perfect over a very demanding race distance…in my mind this is where we get to see just how good these drivers are. If you couple that with the gaudy and rather excessive displays of wealth combined with ‘interesting characters’ it makes for a great week end. As someone once said, ‘monaco is a sunny place for shady people. Love it.


Some Spa stats:

The Belgian Grand Prix was held at
the longer track from 1950-1970.
The modern, shorter version of
Spa opened in 1983.

a) Schumi 6 wins, Senna 5 wins,
Clark + Kimi = 4 wins, Fangio +
Damon = 3 wins.

b) Since 1983: Mclaren 11 wins
Ferrari 7 wins, Williams 3 wins,
Red Bull 3 wins

c) Before Schumi’s 1996 win,
Ferrari’s last win at Spa was in

d) Fangio is the only pilot to have
won the Belgian race in 3
different teams

e) Senna & Clark are the only ones
to have won 4 back to back races.
Schumi and Kimi have won 3 back
to back.

f) Since cars have been racing at
Spa (1925), Senna is the only pilot
to have won more than one race
from pole and he did so in 4
consecutive years.

g) Since 1983, 12 out of 31 have
won from pole whereas since
1950, 17 out of 49 have been
victorious from pole.

h) The track has seen 15 one time
winners out of 48 events

i) Lewis has the record of having gone
the longest between wins >>> 5



h) The track has seen 15 one time
winners out of 48 events

The track has seen 16 one time winners out of 49 events


BAM! I stand corrected, I bow down to superior anorakishness


I think you’ll find that Raikkonen hasn’t won 3 back to back. He won in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009.

Anorak off…


Seems like you need to get a bigger anorak😄🍻


@ James k…I just had a rather uncomfortable feeling that the ‘star’ system, as employed here, could be mistrued as being a quasi ‘anorak’ award of sorts.


Are we not all anoraks of sorts kenneth😄, to those who have no interest in F1 anyway, were just F1 nerds.
Bit like the way we look at train and plane spotters I believe😄
Wear your stars with pride good man, your country is proud of you!😊


@ James K…hahaha yes, there are nerds and then there are nerds.


There wasn’t a race in 2006.


@ Darren

Actually there was no race in 2006 so this would mean Kimi has 3 back to back wins


There was no race in 2006 so he kind of did.


James…are you happy the F1 is returning this weekend or would you have preferred a longer break? Just curious what the people involved in the sport actually feel. As for the tyre strategies, I just hope that the track allows for benefitting from aggressive strategies. I’d love to see Red Bull in the mix, or something to break up the dominance of the last few years. Maybe in an alternate reality Honda will have their spec 4 engine available for this race instead of several races later…


Both the pathetic Honda and the lack of change from the governing bodies are evident with

“suffered a 50-place grid penalty here in 2015, and a 65-place penalty in 2016 “

still these daft rules apply in 17.


James do you think the fact Pirelli have brought the Ultrasofts to Spa is an attempt to prevent a one stop and make everybody stop at least twice and spice things up strategy wise?

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